On June 17, The Low Anthem will release their new record, Eyeland. Five years in the making, Eyeland is a bold experiment is sounds and storytelling unlike anything the band has previously released. It’s also responsible for the revival of Broadway’s once dormant Columbus Theatre.
“I was having pizza across the street from the Columbus and had this realization that maybe we could make our record in there,” says Jeff Prystowsky. Coming off of a tour and ready to get to work on a new album, the band got in touch with owner John Berberian and got the green light to record in the space.
“Spending every day in that theater we started exploring the acoustic possibilities,” says Ben Knox Miller, “There are a lot of different environments that are pretty unique.”
As they ran 400 feet of cable all around the theatre, experimenting with the sonic qualities of recording in a concrete dressing room or 60 feet about the stage, Jeff and Ben begin to realize two things. The first is that songs don’t need to be beholden to a verse-chorus-verse formula and that creating a living, breathing soundscape could be rewarding. The other is that there was a beautiful venue that needed to be brought back to life. Half the band walked away, while Ben and Jeff stayed on, forming the Columbus Cooperative and a functioning recording studio. Their label dropped them. They lost their manager. They made the best of it.
“There was no one asking us to finish the record on time,” says Ben. “We were in free time. We were working on the album, but also willing to give ourselves time to build the sound from scratch again. We didn’t have the same players so the old formula was gone.”
With new bandmates Bryan Minto and Florence Wallis joining in 2013, the band pursued the idea of building a bigger sound than when they had started. An early version of Eyeland existed, but the band wanted to explore a new approach to suit the emotional peaks and valleys of a story about kids who, faced with a tragedy, have to grow up very fast.
“The heart of the narrative has remained the one constant through all of this,” says Ben. “It’s based on a true story about neighborhood kids. Disaster ensues and their sense of their reality as children has shifted to these dark realms of responsibility and guilt.”
The album bleeds from one dreamy sonic collage to another, creating an audioplay of a suburban childhood where reality and fantasy clash. Take the track “The Pepsi Moon,” about corporate advertising being projected onto the moon; something that only a child could see magic in but only a soulless marketing exec could think was a good idea. “In the Air Hockey Fire,” which marks the emotional turning point of the record, is uncomfortably calm in its telling of kids accidentally burning their house down. The following track features the band whistling The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” as chaos erupts around them, not unlike a kid seeking solace from a world they can’t fully understand in their CD collection.
The album delivers a familiar arc, from childish dreaming and innocence through adolescence ended too soon. Like that time in a person’s life, especially one where a tragedy occurs during an already difficult period, Eyeland is a roller coaster full of exciting highs and heartbreaking lows. Listening to it top to tail is the way the band wants you to listen to it, which they admit is a big ask in our age of Spotify. But to commit a piece of your day to sit with it, to soak in the adventure and the chaos of being young and having to confront very grown up things pays off in a very big way.
The Low Anthem will be kicking off a world tour to support Eyeland on Saturday, June 18 at the Columbus Theatre.